Germany received more than a million refugees in 2015, and is expecting to resettle another half million this year, and the German Church stands at a crossroads: Will they continue on a trajectory of inward focus and non-relevance, or receive God’s challenge to “wake up” and usher in revival in the midst of the crisis?
There was a protest against the refugees planned for our small town in Southern Germany, put on by an organization that was hosting rallies all around Germany. On the day of the protest, about 50 of this group’s supporters showed up from out of town. So did around 600 visiting counter-protesters, including some that have unfortunately already become known for violence in the short span of this crisis.
From our home, half-a-block from the city center, we could hear all the noise of the crowds, and a man shouting his message against the refugees in angry-sounding German words over a loud-speaker. It was eerie. We had heard about these protests happening in bigger cities, with Germany accepting such a mass influx of refugees—more than any other European nation—but it was strange to see it in our town. We haven’t seen a single person in the local community who openly opposes the coming of refugees.
Not long ago we attended a gathering of believers in Turkey, to talk about the refugee crisis in Europe and what it means for the Church. What came through loud and clear was that this is an incredible opportunity for movement—revival—to occur. Generally speaking, the Church in Germany has become irrelevant and unengaged, with a tendency to be inward-focused. But through the German system of resettlement, hundreds of refugees are being integrated into every community. Everyone is affected. And it seems like God is using these vulnerable, trauma-surviving refugees, right outside church doors, to send a wake-up call.
We left the gathering in Turkey with conviction about the need for prayer to usher in this revival, prayers that the Church in Germany would see God’s power and relevance, and follow Jesus with a contagious faith again.
There is reason to hope that God is answering those prayers.
As protesters for-and-against the refugees were filling the center of our town with their voices, the local state sponsored church building was also filling up—with people praying.
As a protest to the protest, the church had invited the townspeople to come to church and pray. People completely filled the church—something that never happens, except perhaps at Christmas and Easter. One of the most moving times during the gathering was a concert, put on by refugees from the local refugee center, a mid-term transitional living space.
Two weeks later the protesters returned to the square. This time instead of a service, the church asked people to form a line on the sidewalk, linking arms, and facing away from the rally. Turning their backs on the rally was a strong symbol in the German culture that they not only totally disagreed, but disrespected this rally and what it stood for. Also, all the wooden shutters in town were closed—another sign that these ideas were not welcome in their community.
What These Events Tell Us About Europe
It’s clear that many in Germany are standing alongside refugees and seeking ways to help them—donation centers in every town are overflowing. There are “helping circles” put together by Germans in most towns, to serve refugees in practical ways. Their hearts are soft towards these refugees, and we thank God for that.
What is not as clear is whether the church will catch a vision that goes beyond compassion to sharing Christ. Refugees are displaying a lot of spiritual openness, questioning their former countries’ beliefs, and why this “Christian” nation has helped them and welcomed them in. But there is usually only a small window of time (12-18 months) before refugees settle back into old patterns and beliefs. And even if every believer with evangelistic DNA in their church (about 2% of Germans) were mobilized to work with Muslims, intending to share Jesus with them, there wouldn’t be enough people.
So we look for ways to engage with both our German and refugee neighbors: joining the local helping circle, teaching basic German at the refugee centers, running bike repair clinics. We are also seeking ways to train believers in gospel movement strategies—possibly the best way to reach large numbers of refugees with limited numbers of believers. And we are praying. Because what we really need in our neighborhood is revival—for the Church to come back to life—and we’re not sure how God will do it. But we do believe this is a pivotal moment in the spiritual state of Europe. And only God’s supernatural working can bring them back to life.
How You Can Help the Refugees
Right now prayer is crucial. This is a key way believers can respond, especially for people who want to help from the States, or who can’t mobilize to these places with lots of refugees.
- That the European church wakes up and experiences revival
- That missionaries (and other believers) in Europe would know where and how to invest with limited time and personal resources—as the challenge of making real impact in the face of 1.5 million refugees already in Germany can feel overwhelming
- That the good news of Jesus makes its way into the hearts of those refugees who are searching for hope and a new life
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Gene and Melissa Harter live with their two children in Southwestern Germany. In addition to their work with refugees, they help German believers fulfill their calling by coming alongside them with relationship, resources, and encouragement.